CHINA”S Metallurgical Construction Corp has been frustrated in its attempt to complete construction of the $1.8 billion Ramu nickel mine in PNG.
A new landowner complainant is preventing MCC from building a pipeline into the sea, just when work was about to restart.
The final stage of the Madang province project has been held up since March by a series of injunctions granted by the National Court to coastal landowners who complained that the plan to dispose tailings through a 130km pipeline to the sea would destroy their people’s coastal lifestyle.
The PNG government, then led by prime minister Michael Somare, responded by passing legislation banning such injunctions and demonstrations or other forms of protest against resource projects that had been officially approved.
But this legislation, which would have enabled MCC to move rapidly to begin mining, provoked fierce antipathy and is still on ice, not yet ratified.
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Then two weeks ago, MCC’s Plan B appeared to have succeeded.
The three key landowners responsible for the injunctions suddenly and mysteriously asked the court to drop the proceedings they had brought and sacked their outspoken lawyer, Tiffany Nonggorr.
Ms Nonggorr has become the most eloquent opponent of dumping tailings at sea, at one of the country’s most famous beauty spots.
Acting Prime Minister Don Polye welcomed the National Court’s decision to accept the three landowners’ withdrawal and therefore to permit construction to continue, commending the judiciary “for being mindful of the national interest when determining the merits of the issues”.
John Gooding, managing director of 8.56 per cent shareholder Brisbane-based Highlands Pacific, said then that it was a great outcome for all stakeholders.
“The project can now get on with the task of completing the remaining construction and commissioning,” he said.
But on Friday, Rai Coast villager Louis Medaing, who was represented by Ms Nonggorr, stepped forward with a fresh application to halt construction of the deep-sea tailings placement system.
The court agreed to hear the case on October 15, before which construction cannot re-commence.